Males from the house of Nassau-Orange, the dynastic family influential throughout Europe and the colonies from the 1580s to the late 18th century - and the ancestors of the present Dutch royal family - are well-known to historians.
But if researchers from The University of Western Australia have their way, the Nassau-Orange women will come to be regarded as the source of the power that changed the world.
Winthrop Professor Susan Broomhall and Dr Jacqueline Van Gent are using their grant of more than $450,000 from the Australian Research Council to trawl through the family's thousands of letters - written in old German and French, often with poor spelling and little punctuation - in museums and collections throughout Europe. They are also interested in accounts of the diplomatic gifts of marmalade the women made as they strove to maintain the family in the public eye, so successfully that after the period of Republican government in the Napoleonic era, the Nassau were the obvious choice for the new nation's royal family.
"We're looking at the way the women, who wrote the most letters - and made the marmalade - produced and used power," Professor Broomhall said.
"This was a great dynastic family and despite their differences, including language and religion, there was too much at stake to allow the family ties to break down," Dr Van Gent said. "The letters maintained the ties and show a fascinating mix of social distance and intimacy through their frequency, the emotion revealed and the ways in which the writer addresses her various readers."
"Through their correspondence - up to one letter a week over 30 or 40 years amongst the 13 siblings of the founder of the house, William the Silent - the women were the glue that held the family together," Professor Broomhall said. "The male line kept dying out and the widows were able to maintain the presence of the family until the next generation of males was ready to take over."
"They did this through strategic political alliances and also through propaganda that included visual imagery such as big flattering portraits hung in public places, architecture, tiles, porcelain, castles, gardens, furniture and coins - and of course the colour orange and the image of the orange tree which, although it might lose a limb, continues to flower and to fruit," Dr Van Gent said.
Also involved is post-doctoral fellow Dr Susie Protschky of Monash University and Professor Michaela Hohkamp of the University of Berlin.
Winthrop Professor Susan Broomhall (UWA Discipline of History) (+61 8) 6488 2139
Dr Jacqueline Van Gent (UWA Centre for Women's Studies) (+61 8) 6488 2117
Janine MacDonald (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 5563 / (+61 4) 32 637 716